They're breaking up that old gang of mine THE IMPACT: WE'LL NEVER BE 'IN OUR 30S' AGAIN


When the news broke last week -- Nancy may have lived but "thirtysomething" was dying -- I had to call my sister.

"Did you hear?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said. "It's very sad. Our life is going to be hell."

It wasn't the first time we had dished about Hope, Michael, Elliot and the gang. Our post-show chats, in fact, had become a favorite pastime. I called her after Gary died. (She sniffled into the phone.) She called me when Ellyn, one of the few remaining single characters, got married. ("I knew you'd be depressed," she said.) And we both fretted while Nancy battled ovarian cancer.

Those days are behind us now. Thanks to ABC network executives, who decided to spare Doogie Howser but not Michael Steadman, tonight's episode (at 10 on WJZ-TV) will be the last. (One of the show's producers did, however, raise the possibility Friday that the series may return briefly next season to take care of some unfinished business.)

It was fun the four seasons it lasted. TV critics, trend watchers and even marriage counselors have had a field day analyzing how the program depicted a slice of modern life, pushed the boundaries of TV drama and summed up the self-absorbed '80s.

My sister and I watched for other reasons. For better or worse, we saw ourselves in the characters. My sister identified with Hope, a wife and mother with a career on hold and mixed feelings about society's image of her. I was Melissa, a single woman with an often ambivalent attitude toward dating. "It's like the lottery," Melissa said once. "You know you won't win -- but you keep buying tickets." I could relate.

That's not to say the show was perfect. Sure, Elliot was immature, Ellyn annoying and Hope insufferable.

But aren't we all sometimes?

Funny thing is, I remember catching an early episode and hating it. Who are these yupped-out losers? I wondered. How did I know that four years later I'd see myself as one of them and have trouble imagining Tuesdays without them?

Somewhere between Hope's car accident and Leo's birth, I got hooked. And although tonight's finale promises to be an "emotional cliffhanger," experience tells me the show won't serve up any tidy, happy endings.

If it's any consolation, there is talk of a half-hour spinoff focusing on Melissa's life.

Will it ever happen? If it does, will it work? Or will Melissa become just a quirkier Mary Tyler Moore?

I don't have the answers, but I do know one thing: I can't wait to mention the possibility to my sister.

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